Trout, Rod and Fly Reel

Bainbridge Bishop (American, 1837–1905)
Trout, Rod and Fly Reel, 1880
oil on canvas

When discussing the theme of figures within the landscape, this still life carries a predominant human presence, even though no human is pictured here. Bainbridge Bishop’s Trout, Rod and Fly Reel displays a group of freshly caught brook trout carefully positioned on a mossy bank beside a fly rod, fully equipped with an Orvis 1874 patented reel, a stunning example of man-made modern technology and design in the late nineteenth century.

When Bishop completed this still life in the 1880s, the 1874 Orvis reel was top of the line. Showing careful attention to detail, Bishop honors the reel’s precision and mastery. The reel’s defined surface is distinct from the softness used to paint the trout and the surrounding landscape. In his realism, Bishop highlights the differences between a manufactured object and organic life forms, and indirectly draws attention to the contrast between modern innovation and the natural world.

Bainbridge Bishop was not only a painter, but also an inventor, and in 1877 he patented a design for an instrument called a color organ, similar to a pipe organ, but modified to project colorful light when played. With Bishop’s passion for design, it is clear why he would choose to feature the 1874 Orvis reel in this still life.